Lolly Adefope on #MeToo comedy Chivalry: ‘Humour is an amazing tool to deal with serious stuff’

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 (Photography by Natasha Pszenicki, make-up by Min Sandhu, hair by Dionne Smith)
(Photography by Natasha Pszenicki, make-up by Min Sandhu, hair by Dionne Smith)

Can you get laughs out of me #MeToo? “It’s a topic that’s obviously very serious, and [has been] at the forefront of everyone’s mind, especially in the last couple of years,” says Lolly Adefope, star of Channel 4’s Chivalry, a comedy-drama from Steve Coogan and Sarah Solemani which explores sexual politics in the wake of the film industry’s post-Weinstein reckoning. “But I think that humour is an amazing tool to deal with serious stuff, especially stuff that people find it hard or awkward to talk about.

“People can be nervous about speaking out about things and saying the wrong thing”, adds the actress and comic, 31, who has fast become a mainstay of some of Britain’s best comedies of recent years, like Ghosts and This Time With Alan Partridge, and has also starred in US comedy Shrill alongside Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant. “There’s fear of cancellation, whatever that means. So I think a comedy about such a serious topic is a great way to tackle it… to face it head on and not make light of, but acknowledge the awkwardness.”

Chivalry certainly does that. As the series opens, indie director Bobby (Solemani) has been recruited by producer Cameron (Coogan) to rescue a problematic film after its equally problematic auteur director is hit by scandal. Adefope plays the latter’s assistant Ama, who is ambitious, switched-on and more than capable of holding her own in situations that would make most of us do a full bodied cringe (explaining to her older bosses exactly why a sex scene just doesn’t work, for example).

Lolly Adefope as Ama in Chivalry (PA)
Lolly Adefope as Ama in Chivalry (PA)

“Originally, she was slightly meeker, more of that typical assistant character who’s overwhelmed by the industry and just wants to impress,” says Adefope. “And then I think it was Marta [Cunningham, director]’s idea to toughen her up a little bit, and turn her into this self-assured millennial who knows that she’s smarter than everyone else in the room, but is playing the game a little bit.”

Her character, she notes, might be on the “lower rungs of the industry” right now, but won’t be for long. “It was quite fun to have that kind of power dynamic,” she says. “It’s kind of invisible, and technically Steve and Sarah[‘s characters] are the more powerful characters in the room, but you get the sense that Ama, in years to come, is probably going to be their boss one day.”

We may be almost five years on from the #MeToo movement spotlighting toxic and abusive behaviour in the film industry, but, as Adefope notes, “it’s still happening, these conversations are still ongoing and these things still affect this industry and others.” There is, she adds, “a lot of truth in [the show] - it’s not just a satirical sideways look at a serious topic, a lot of it feels very grounded and realistic, very true to the industry that it’s talking about.”

Knowing that Chivalry was written by Coogan and Solemani, meant she “felt like [the project] was in very safe hands.” She has, of course, worked with the former before - as scene-stealing roving reporter Ruth Duggan on This Time With Alan Partridge, whose barely concealed contempt for Coogan’s excruciating TV host is an ongoing highlight of the BBC show (“It’s mad to have done two different shows where I get to take the piss out of Steve Coogan”).

In the show, she notes, “people aren’t represented as good or bad, which I think in #MeToo arguments, people often are… that makes people think that it’s pretty binary.” The show is also unafraid to “mine the comedy” out of positive post-#MeToo changes in the industry, like the introduction of intimacy coordinators to sets. “I’ve only been working for six or seven years anyway, so I wouldn’t maybe notice as much of a shift, but I definitely didn’t know about intimacy coordinators’ work when I was younger,” she says. “I’ve worked with a couple in the last few years and hadn’t before. It’s much more normalised [now] which it probably should have been from day one.

“I think it’s great - there’s an argument that it takes away from the natural chemistry that you might have with someone… but from one day to the next, you might think ‘I want to be really free’ and then the next day, you might feel really self-conscious. And just having that foundation of the person who’s there to make you feel comfortable - especially with a crew, there’s so many people and it’s like, OK, but who is responsible for this part of filming - it’s great to have that on set. Even for kissing scenes that it might seem like you could do them without, it’s good to have someone there who’s a steady person that you can talk to.”

Born in Sutton, south London, to Nigerian parents, Adefope grew up watching the likes of Catherine Tate and Olivia Colman, as well as Coogan and his Partridge co-creator Armando Iannucci, on TV, and knew she “wanted to be a comic actor… if that was a thing.” A trip to the Edinburgh Fringe as a student showed her that she could “bridge” stand-up and comic acting by doing “live character comedy.”

She started doing gigs when she had a full-time office job, which she eventually had to pack in for the chance to perform at Edinburgh.”It wasn’t like, ‘Mum, Dad I’m doing really well [at comedy] so I’m gonna quit my job’... It was like, ‘I’ve done four gigs and I’m going to quit my job,’” she laughs. “I had to move out of my flat and move back in with my parents, and they were just like ‘this feels like you’re going backwards…’”

They weren’t saying that for long, though. These days her schedule is so packed - when we meet, she had just wrapped filming for the fourth series of Ghosts, then immediately started rehearsing for Seize Them!, a historical comedy that will also star Derry Girls’ Nicola Coughlan and Sex Education’s Aimee Lou Wood - that it’s been a struggle to find time to work on a TV pilot of her own. “It’s getting there, it’s progressing,” she says. “But it’s so hard to do both at the same time - in those brief interludes between projects, I try and dedicate my time to it, but something else gets in the way… But it’s definitely moving forwards. It’s just very slow.” We’re sure that it will be more than worth the wait.

Chivalry continues on Channel 4, Thursdays at 10pm and is available to stream on All4.

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